Archive for September, 2011

Colorado State Lobbyist Convicted of Second Degree Burglary & Criminal Mischief

by Kristen Pavón

Ahh, it’s Friday, Friday and I have another gem for you courtesy of FindLaw’s Legally Weird blog.

Ronald Smith, a Colorado state lobbyist, faces 18 years in jail for burglarizing his ex-wife’s house. [Some background here: they were in the thick of a divorce and a custody battle.]

Here’s where it gets weird —

The jury found him responsible for placing raw chicken into the home’s vents, pouring bleach on her grand piano, and scratching the floors with metal cleats.

He put raw chicken in her vents?! Ew. Ew. Ew. Who does that?! Read more here.

Thankfully, he didn’t physically harm her. As a related FYI — October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Have a great and safe weekend, readers!

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Access to Justice Issues Coming to a Head & a Broader Perspective

by Kristen Pavón

As if we needed more confirmation that there is an access to justice crisis in our nation, there seems to be more press coverage about the subject than ever.

I wonder if because the journalists are taking up the issue so vehemently (presumably because the public cares about the issue, or at least should care), will the lawmakers follow suit — will they hear us?

Today, this story ran in New York — For More and More Low-Income New Yorkers, Civil Legal Services Are Just Out of Reach.

Last week, out of Baltimore– At 100th anniversary, Md. Legal Aid seeing record caseload.

In Nebraska — More Nebraskans need legal aid services

In Phoenix — Lawyers say increased use of do-it-yourself legal services risky

From the New York Times– Legal Assistance in Civil Cases Under Growing Threat

From Center of Public Integrity — HUD cuts to devastate mortgage counseling agencies across nation

From HuffPost — Could More Public-Interest Lawyers in D.C. Help Prevent Domestic Tragedies?

You get my point. I only hope that some viable solutions are found created.

Looking more broadly, a similar public debate about the desperate need for legal aid funding and access-to-justice solutions is stirring in the U.K., Ireland, Lebanon, Laos and other countries.

Here are few of the recent headlines from around the world:

U.K. — Will legal aid changes limit access to justice?Legal aid threatened by coalition plans

Lebanon — Lack of state-funded legal aid hampers justice

Laos — Laos needs help developing legal aid

Ghana — Legal Aid Scheme urged to seek for further support

Tanzania — CJ identifies flaws in Constitution

Interesting.

So, here are a couple of questions I have… Can we look abroad for solutions to our access to justice crisis? How, if at all, does our access to justice crisis affect other countries’ justice issues?

Thoughts?

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Job o' the Day: Serve the Underserved in Atlanta with The Georgia Law Center for the Homeless

The Georgia Law Center for the Homeless is looking for a staff attorney to join in providing legal services to Atlanta’s most vulnerable populations. GLC serves its clients in a holistic manner, helping them move toward self-sufficiency.

The staff attorney will represent clients in civil legal proceedings, primarily in family law, housing law and public benefits. Also, the attorney will conduct outreach to area shelters and homeless service providers.

If you’re a member of the Georgia bar, check out the complete listing at PSLawNet!

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Public Interest News Bulletin – September 30, 2011

By: Steve Grumm

Happy Friday, dear readers, and greetings from the nation’s capital, where the First Lady is out and about with the regular people and those wiseacre rascals at the Onion have drawn the attention of Johnny Law.

This week in the public interest world: a Rainbow State legal services program merges with Appleseed; Cleveland Legal Aid Society gets a $ boost to help with an office move; the importance of maintaining government legal services funding here in DC; MLAB hits the century mark, and there’s no shortage of work; news about the new USAJobs site; training bilingual law students in proper legal translating/interpretation (great idea!); checking in with the Legal Services Corp.’s prez; AtJ in the Cornhusker State; a long-cherished UAW legal services programs is going the way of many other union benefits. 

  • 9.27.11 – right here in the District, UDC Law Professor Matthew Fraidin makes the case for local government funding of legal services.  Writing in the Huffington Post, Fraidin highlights a recent death of a woman who had sought, pro se, a protection order against the alleged killer.  Fraidin uses this tragedy to illustrate the invaluable role that public interest lawyers play in guiding DV victims through a highly complex legal system.  (He notes the benefits of representation for alleged DV perpetrators, as well.)  As DC’s local elected officials are forming the budget, Fraidin argues, they must appreciate the value and importance of funding legal services.”
  • 9.26.11 – the Maryland Legal Aid Bureau turns 100. Birthday present: tons and tons of clients. A Baltimore Sun article highlights the uptick in cases: Legal Aid, which employs about 150 lawyers around the state, has seen its annual caseload grow from less than 42,000 five years ago to nearly 70,000 in the fiscal year that ended in June.  The challenges faced by clients reflect the times. Unemployment insurance cases are up 150 percent in the last four years. Consumer collection cases — default on debt, Social Security attachments and the like — are up 30 percent.”
  • 9.26.11 – the new (and promised-to-be-improved) USAJobs website is set to launch officially on 10/13.  From the Government Executive website, some important details about the transition: “Agencies will have to close all open job announcements before Oct. 6, when the system will be made unavailable to all applicants. The downtime will allow agencies to move data to the new platform built by OPM and create a level playing field for job seekers and human resources staff. According to agency officials, the system could be back up and running as early as Oct. 11.”
    • “Create an independent body to make fiscal operations more efficient;
    • Focus on getting services to hard-to-reach communities;
    • Prove legal aid is different [than other federally funded programs that are threatened with funding cuts.  In particular: providing citizens with equal access to justice is in keeping with our Constitution’s fundamental tenets.]
    • Seek alternative revenue sources.”
  • 9.25.11 – AtJ news from the Cornhusker State.  The Grand Island Independent – hey, I spent a night there in a roadside motel while driving cross-country in my beloved 1991 Honda Civic – reports on a widening justice gap.  “More Nebraskans than ever have the need for free legal aid, but the available funds and number of attorneys willing to take on a pro-bono case are limited, said a group of Nebraska Bar Association executive committee members who were traveling the state last week talking about the cause…. State bar president-elect Warren Whitted noted that “of 25,000 qualifying applications [for legal services], about 10,000 were able to be served [because of resource shortages]. Most of those cases involved domestic matters, landlord/ tenant disputes, and social security questions.”
  • 9.24.11 – did you know that, for decades, free legal services were available to some GM autoworkers via their union contract?  Neither did I.  Does it surprise you that this benefit is going away as the UAW continues a fundamental restructuring of its relationship with American automakers?  Me neither.  The Detroit Free-Press reports that via a tentative labor deal, in 2014 a UAW-created legal aid program will come to an end: “The program, which operates separately from the UAW, employs about 200 attorneys and covers legal services, such as adopting a child, probate proceedings and real estate disputes.”  Similar programs for Ford and Chrysler workers could suffer the same fate.  

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Job o' the Day: Work in Sunny Florida at the Middle District

The Middle District of Florida (located in Jacksonville, Florida) is looking for a judicial law clerk to research issues of law, draft briefs and opinions, attends trials and other court proceedings, and act as an law advisor to the Honorable Timothy J. Corrigan, United States District Judge.

Judge Corrigan hears all kinds of cases, civil and criminal, often involving novel issues of law.

If you’re looking for warm winters and are interested in a legal career in the government, check out the listing at PSLawNet!

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Civil Rights Complaints at Record High at U.S. Department of Education

by Kristen Pavón

BET reports that civil rights complaints have reached an all-time high and the U.S. Department of Education is busy with investigations across the nation. Just last year, 7,000 complaints were filed with the DOE.

The types of complaints vary, including “failing to provide minority students with access to college- and career-track courses, not assigning ‘highly qualified teachers’ to minority districts, and disproportionately suspending minority students and placing them in special education courses.”

“America has been battling inequity in education for decades but these data show that we cannot let up,” said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan. “Children who need the most too often get the least. It’s a civil rights issue, an economic security issue and a moral issue.”

Last year the Office for Civil Rights was criticized by Education Secretary Arnie Duncan that they had not aggressively pursued Title 6 investigations to improve the quality of education for minority and poor students over the last ten years, and this year, the department is seeking to make up for their mistakes.

The DOE has also found that teachers in schools with higher minority enrollment get paid $2,500 less on average than their counterparts within their school districts.

This information came from the Civil Rights Data Collection research. Part I, released in June, focused on enrollment data. Part II, which will be released by the end of this year, will offer a closer look into district demographics and end-of-year data.

Part II will also gives us great insight into where we should be focusing our efforts to improve our schools, on a civil rights front. Data will include the number of students passing Algebra I, in-school suspensions, zero-tolerance expulsion, school-related arrests, harassment and bullying, data on school financing and expenditures, among other categories.

Read BET’s story here and the DOE’s press release on the Civil Rights Data Collection here.

Thoughts?

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New Wage Theft Law is a Huge Victory for San Francisco Workers

by Kristen Pavón

Earlier this month, San Francisco enacted stricter penalties for employers who violate minimum wage and overtime laws and illegally deny workers their due wages.

The unanimously approved wage theft law strengthens the city’s ability to investigate violations and increases wage protections. Investigators will be able to access payroll records, interview workers and inspect labor sites at any time during business hours. The ordinance also requires employers to inform workers of pending investigations, and increases penalties against employers who retaliate against workers who complain.

“This ordinance represents a huge victory for San Francisco workers in these hard economic times. Given current political divisions, it is remarkable to see such broad consensus and overwhelming support for low-wage workers . . .” said Shaw San Liu, lead organizer of the Chinese Progressive Association (CPA).

The San Francisco ordinance is one of many anti–wage theft measures recently passed throughout the nation. In the past two years, Texas, Washington, New York, Illinois, and Maryland have all passed legislation to crack down on wage theft. Localities ranging from Seattle, Washington, to Fayetteville, Arkansas, have also recently passed anti–wage theft measures.

The new law goes into effect in a couple of weeks. Read more here.

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Job o' the Day: Consumer Advocacy Fellowship in D.C.

Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports® and ConsumerReports.org®, is looking for a law school graduate or graduate-level policy analyst to work for two years as the Esther Peterson Fellow in its Washington D.C. Office.

The Esther Peterson Fellow will receive hands-on experience and training in advocacy on consumer issues at the federal legislative and executive branch level.

Responsibilities include legal research and writing, bill analysis, lobbying Congress and administrative agencies, and filing petitions at administrative agencies.

If you’re committed to social and economic justice, learn how to apply at PSLawNet!

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HuffPost Asks if D.C. Public Interest Lawyers Could Prevent Domestic Tragedies

by Kristen Pavón

Huffington Post’s Matthew Fraidin suggests that part of the D.C. Council’s $89 million surplus go to funding more legal aid.

With Alecia Wheeler’s story as a tragic reminder, Fraidin recognized the tremendous “bang legal services lawyers provide for every buck” and how public interest lawyers could help save lives.

In domestic violence cases, the litigants’ testimony often is the primary source of information for the judge. Without a lawyer asking questions sequentially and with the goal of eliciting answers which amount to a legally-cognizable complaint, a story may emerge incompletely and disjointedly. Facts which may be of great importance to the complainant may be of limited significance under the law, or the judge may misperceive their true meaning. . . .

And many litigants are not aware of the importance of marshaling additional corroborating evidence, such as witness testimony, telephone records, police reports, hospital records, and 911 telephone recordings. For a woman fleeing or hiding from a batterer, especially if she is trying to care for children at the same time, building an air-tight case on her own is simply unrealistic.

That is where a lawyer comes in. The District of Columbia is fortunate to have a strong community of committed anti-domestic violence advocates and legal services lawyers. We get that stellar service on the cheap: salaries for legal services lawyers start at about $40,000. And those resources are complemented by top-flight student law clinics, as well as pro bono lawyers affiliated with the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Program.

But nearly 4,500 people, mostly women, seek stay-away orders each year in the District of Columbia. Using the Access to Justice Commission’s estimate that 98% of litigants are unrepresented, that is too many chances for even the most careful judges to get it wrong.

As Council members weigh the many funding priorities competing for a piece of the $89 million pie, they should recognize the bang legal services lawyers provide for every buck. Studies show that legal aid more than pays for itself. Even more to the point, domestic violence lawyers make women safer by using legal avenues, such as child support actions, that reduce a victim’s financial dependence on a batterer and eliminate one obstacle to ending a dangerous relationship.

Read the rest of the article here.

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U.S. District Judge to Rule on Alabama Immigration Law Today

by Kristen Pavón

Alabama’s H.B. Bill 56 was signed into law in June and today, U.S. District Judge Sharon Blackburn will be deciding its fate.

Pretty immediately after the bill was signed into law, the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a lawsuit challenging the law reasoning that parts of it conflict with federal immigration law and undermine federal immigration objectives.

The controversial law requires proof of citizenship when renewing or applying for a driver’s license and requires all employers to use a state-wide database to verify citizenship — important for employers as it’s illegal to knowingly hire an illegal alien.

If implemented, the law mandates all public schools to check the immigration status of all of its students and criminalizes many activities that could be seen as aiding an alien, such as giving them a ride.

In addition to the DOJ, the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama, Southern Poverty Law Center, National Immigration Law Center, Asian Law Caucus, Asian American Justice Center and the Episcopalian church’s Bishop for the Diocese of Alabama, Rev. Henry N. Parsley have also challenged the law.

Read more here.

Thoughts?

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